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Pearce injury latest blow as Rays head into difficult stretch

CLEVELAND — Steve Pearce flies back to Tampa this morning for an appointment with an MRI machine, and it's fair to wonder if any chance the Rays had to turn around this season leaves with him.

The Rays have already dealt with a month-long injury to 2015 team MVP Logan Forsythe. They are still clearly reeling from the ongoing absence of Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, along with having three other outfielders on the DL. And now they may find that playing for probably at least three weeks without Pearce, their most consistent hitter, may be too much to overcome.

Especially given how badly they have been going, losing their season-high sixth straight Tuesday while held to three hits, sitting 31-38 and in last place, 8½ games out, with more wins than only the A's and Twins in the American League.

And how difficult of a stretch they are in, facing the division-leading Indians and Orioles then with two series against the archenemy Red Sox bracketing meetings with the Tigers and Angels heading into what will be a much-needed All-Star break.

"Pearce was doing a lot of things for us, kind of sitting right in the middle of our lineup and driving in some big runs for us, having quality at-bat after quality at-bat," manager Kevin Cash said.

"So we're going to need somebody to step up. We've got some candidates that we feel are very capable of doing that. It's just time to do that."

But who?

And how quickly?

The answer is most likely going to come internally. The idea of a reunion with former All-Star Carl Crawford sounded intriguing at least in some ways, and surely there is some outfielder/DH type with numbers that compute to team officials available somewhere, but the Rays seem more likely to patch this latest mess internally. So plan on seeing plenty more of Desmond Jennings, whose hustle was a topic of conversation again Tuesday.

With Brandon Guyer and Steven Souza Jr. supposedly returning during the next homestand, the Rays don't seem to see much sense in bringing someone in who would then be squeezed out. But if they can no longer even see first place by then, it may prove to be a costly decision. Evan Longoria can't homer every night.

So for now, the solutions are Nick Franklin and … Ryan Garton.

Franklin was called up to replace Mikie Mahtook, who Tuesday became the latest outfielder on the DL, with Taylor Motter moving onto the grass. It wasn't as if they had a lot of other outfield options or much to pick from — especially given the disappointing play of Richie Shaffer, who is hitting .242 with just five homers and 26 RBIs at Triple-A Durham — off their 40-man roster.

And to take the place of Pearce (who was hitting .322, with a .933 OPS), the Rays opted, at least initially, to address the other pressing concern that has burned them repeatedly, adding Garton as an extra arm to an obviously weary bullpen. And a pen that has to deal with the double blow of a doubleheader looming Saturday and Matt Andriese being unavailable in relief after tonight since he is starting one of the games.

Erasmo Ramirez can insist he feels good and is not tired, but the results clearly indicate otherwise, given the lack of sharpness and break his pitches have going toward the plate and the velocity at which they are going the other way.

Though the Rays stopped short of a forced rest by putting Ramirez on the disabled list, Cash said they are really, seriously, absolutely going to limit his duty.

So, just to review …

Sixty-nine games in and the Rays' heavily touted starters from Chris Archer down have yet to pitch consistently or concurrently well; key parts of their bullpen appear to be worn out; and their homer-heavy, all-or-nothing, already depleted lineup just lost its most consistent hitter as they go through the most rugged part of their schedule with no help coming from the outside.

"We'll continue to try to find a way to piece it together," Cash said.

Good luck with that.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Pearce injury latest blow as Rays head into difficult stretch 06/21/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 11:31pm]
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